New Ofcom rules will make roaming charges clearer for consumers

By Adrian Vincent - 26 Mar 2024, 21:41 New Ofcom rules will make roaming charges clearer for consumers

At CompareDial, we’ve written tons of guides on roaming, detailing the often nuanced and intricate policies of each network. We’ve tried to provide clear and simple information, including the destinations you can roam for free in, what the restrictions are (if any), and how much you will be charged when free roaming is not available.

The situation has become even more complicated since Britain left the EU. Networks are no longer required to provide free EU roaming to their customers. O2 is the only provider of the 4 major networks that continues to provide free EU roaming, while Three, Vodafone and EE now charge for the benefit. Interestingly, most MVNOs continue to provide EU roaming, while often being cheaper than the 4 major networks.

To help clear things up a bit, Ofcom has introduced new rules, which are set to come into effect on 1 October 2024.

Networks will be required to automatically alert their customers when travelling abroad, clearly informing them of any potential charges and restrictions. Networks were previously required to do this under EU law, however since Brexit, this no longer became a legal requirement. However, most networks voluntarily continued to send these types of alerts to their customers, as it generally benefits both parties - less angry customers, and it keeps the complaints lines quieter.

The new Ofcom rules state that the alerts must be consistent and clear, detailing any potential costs, fair usage limits, how to set up spending caps, and where to find additional information about roaming.

Interestingly, Ofcom does not specify how customers must receive the alerts, however it’s likely networks will continue to use text messages, as this is generally the most convenient and accessible method on a phone.

According to Ofcom, 19% of holidaymakers said they were unaware that they could be charged extra when using their phone abroad. In addition, 18% said they do not research roaming charges before going abroad. These figures likely suggest that some Brits are still unaware that networks are no longer required to provide free EU roaming.

In addition to alerting customers about roaming when going abroad, Ofcom states that networks must make similar efforts to inform customers when inadvertently roaming.

Inadvertently roaming can occur when your phone automatically connects to a network in a particular country, even though you are not actually in said country. For example, if you’re on a flight at low altitude, your phone may attempt to connect to a network in the country you are currently flying over, even if it’s not your final destination. This can end up costing you a lot of money without you knowing at the time.

It can also occur near borders. For example, it's common for people in Northern Island for their phones to connect to a network in Ireland. Similarly, people in England living near the coast can sometimes connect to networks in France.

To avoid these issues, networks must make an effort to alert customers when this could potentially happen. As an example, Ofcom says networks can monitor when customers are near such areas, and automatically send alerts to inform them of the issues, and how to avoid it.

Ofcom goes on to say that inadvertently roaming has previously affected 14% of mobile customers.

Overall, we think the new rules will be welcomed by consumers. No one likes to see unexpected charges on their bills at the end of the month, and most people like to stay informed on how their network can charge them for additional services not included with their plan. In addition, networks generally provide similar alerts to customers already, so this shouldn’t be much of a change or effort for them to introduce.

About the author Adrian Vincent

As the founder and senior editor at CompareDial, Adrian Vincent is a renowned expert in all things related to mobile phones, and is particularly knowledgeable when it comes to helping consumers find the best contract deals. His expertise is widely recognised, with citations from leading news organisations and tech publications. Adrian is dedicated to guiding users through the complexities of the phone contract market, ensuring they receive unparalleled advice and secure the best value for their money.